REUTERS Online US Edition
By Mark Miller
Mark Schottland’s 401(k) took a beating in the market crash of 2008, and its value plunged 35 percent, to $65,000. But rather than go into a mattress fund, the Nashville resident decided to invest in himself.
Schottland used what was left of his nest egg at the end of that year to buy the Nashville franchise for Dogtopia, a dog daycare and boarding business that had 27 locations nationwide at the end of last year.
To do that, he took advantage of a little-known transaction called rollover-as-business-startup (with the confidence-inspiring acronym of ROBS). That allowed Schottland, then in his mid-30s, to sidestep the typical income taxes and 10 percent penalty that hit those under the age of 59-1/2 who withdraw money from tax-deferred retirement plans.
The ROBS loophole is complex: It allows would-be entrepreneurs to roll over their existing 401(k)or Individual Retirement Account to a plan set up within a new company, and then has that 401(k) purchase stock in it.
“I decided I’d rather invest my retirement money in my own abilities than in the stock market,” Schottland said. “There’s a lot of risk in investing in your own business, but at least you have control over your own destiny. In the stock market, you just don’t.”
Guidant Financial, a company that helps entrepreneurs execute ROBS and advised Schottland on the Dogtopia deal, says more than 80 percent of its clients are still in business after five years, most likely because because the ROBS-generated equity reduces the amount of debt required to launch their businesses.
David Nilssen, Guidant’s chief executive, adds that most clients have significant business experience and are affluent enough to take a risk. Half have owned a business before, and most have senior-level managerial experience. “If you’re buying a business, you need significant assets to make it happen,” he says. “You also need experience and contacts.”
Schottland fits that description. He began his career in financial services, working for 10 years as a money market manager and mutual fund wholesaler. “I got tired of traveling and sitting on an airplane, so I started looking for a mom and pop industry that needed consolidation.”
He got the idea of going into the dog business when he saw how much it cost to board his own two Siberian Huskies.
“There are a lot of traps for the unwary,” he says. “All other things being equal, you wouldn’t put such a large proportion of your wealth into one investment. But this approach has advantages for someone who couldn’t otherwise start a business.”
Schottland used several funding sources to launch his business. His franchise contract prohibits disclosure of the specific costs of launching a local Dogtopia, but he ballparks it between $250,000 and $400,000. The ROBS provided $65,000 of launch funds; $140,000 came from a Small Business Administration-backed loan, and the remainder came from his taxable accounts.
Business is good – Schottland says he’s been operating at a profit since late 2009, and today is running at 80 percent occupancy. Now 39, he has been able to rebuild his 401(k) holdings to $16,000 (not including the company stock). So long as business doesn’t go to the dogs, his ROBS should pay off handsomely.